Delegating (A Lesson In Letting Go)


You’re the one who worked yourself into a promotion from individual contributor to manager. You’re the one who is a subject matter expert on most of the processes your team touches. And you’re the one who is ultimately responsible to the executives of your company for your team’s KPIs this quarter. So, naturally, since you know best, you might as well do it yourself. Your way or the highway, right?

Well, not necessarily.

It’s true that being appointed the team leader means being the one who first tears though the unknown, trekking the quickest, best path through the thicket of uncertainty. Early on, you’ll learn to spot what works and doesn’t work. But the real challenges come when the forest gets even thicker, when the mountains get higher, and when the rivers get harder to wade through. These bigger challenges require teamwork, and teamwork requires delegation. And delegation requires—and this is the hardest part—giving up a slice of control. This seems to make enough sense, but why is it that so many of us managers have a tough time with it?

It comes down to a few key things:

  • A fear of losing control
  • A belief that we are the only ones who can do the job right
  • A feeling that there’s not enough time to adequately train another person

These are the challenges many team leads and executives face when learning to let go. Randomly delegating tasks is never the answer. The secret to building a thriving culture (and not working 24/7 while you do it) is to learn to delegate and don’t make excuses not to.

Practice Progressive Delegation

Delegation is an evolving process. If you’re just beginning to hand over control, start by delegating less-urgent or important items. If you’ve got something that requires immediate, careful attention, there’s no reason to try to delegate that to individuals before you know they can handle it. The smaller the responsibility, the less chance it has of catastrophically failing if you pass it on.

As you and your direct reports mature, you’ll find—if you’re mindful—that you’ll be able to pass on increasingly important tasks to the right individuals. Delegating works best when you build up a team that you can trust to carry out certain tasks. The best way to do this is by mixing low-importance and low-urgency items with progressively higher ones. Don’t assume that only delegating non-challenging items successfully will allow you the same outcome once you start delegating more difficult ones. Once a person has proven themselves, try giving them tasks—that won’t risk serious disruption—but are still challenging and require hard work and commitment.

If you can let go and learn to progressively delegate, you can build an incredibly powerful team. An environment of successful delegation allows younger, less experienced staff to grow into positions where they themselves will learn to delegate and coach others.

Monitor Employee Progress

Once you’ve started delegating, don’t be afraid to monitor the success and failures of those tasks. But keep this in mind: you’re not being a good monitor by being suspicious or overbearing. Employees aren’t going to trust themselves if you don’t give them a little breathing room.

The best delegators walk a fine line directly between micromanaging and a hands-off approach. If you don’t keep a solid middle ground, you’re likely to run into some extreme problems. If you’re micromanaging, you’re probably not delegating at all and your employees may feel untrusted and ultimately, unimportant. On the other hand, entirely neglecting a delegated task risks grossly mismanaged expectations and potentially hazardous results.

Progress monitoring—like learning how to delegate at all—is itself an evolutionary, trial-and-error process. Over time, aim for a more systematic way of gauging progress with timely updates, moderate oversight, and fewer interventions.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up

Don’t simply abandon the person or delegated task once you’ve passed it on. A successful delegator checks in on employees when necessary and asks themselves the following:

  1. Were key objectives met? How satisfactorily were they met?
  2. Was the task met by or ahead of deadline? If not, is there a legitimate reason?
  3. How far did the employee go above and beyond what was requested?
  4. Did the employee have a “get it done” attitude about the task? Did he or she try to own the task, or were you repeatedly asked subsequent questions during its duration?
  5. Has the employee proven themselves? To the point of you delegating more important, urgent tasks with less oversight?

The truth is, the biggest obstacle to effective delegation isn’t actually the what’s or the who’s. It’s—you guessed it—YOU. Growth, in life and in business, takes introspection and reflection. And if you want to grow your own career (and have fun doing it), you’ll need to know how to let go of some control, as hard as that can be.


Your Next Step in Delegating

As a leader, it’s not always clear what skills you need to boost your career, help your company, and simultaneously lead your team effectively.  Check out Emergent Exec’s Executive Accelerator℠ for incredible modules to propel your leadership and build measurable results for the leaders of tomorrow!


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